This website highlights 16th-, 17th-, and 18th-century broadside ballads. These were popular songs (frequently with lavish woodcut illustrations) sold at a relatively affordable price and widely circulated. They celebrated contemporary events and figures and were an early means of mass communication. Because of their subject matter and their ubiquity, they are an invaluable resource for the study of British cultural and social history as well as the history of printing in general. This collection of over 30,000 song sheets is perhaps the largest in the United Kingdom.
The broadsides may be accessed four primary ways: via a "Collections" section, through the accompanying illustrations in the "Illustration" section, using the “Browse” option, or the "Advanced Search" option. The first option highlights the collections of Oxford antiquarians and scholars going back over three centuries. These pages introduce the collection and how to use it. One example, the that of Elias Ashmole (1617-1692) holds the library's most extensive collection of political ballads from the Restoration period.
"Illustrations" offers the user a chance to explore the collection of accompanying woodcuts by theme and key word. The “Browse” option offers a way to explore the ballads a variety of ways including Titles/First Lines, Subjects, Themes, Dates, Locations, Authors or Performers among others. The "Advance Search" also allows users to search by any of these categories. A newly added "Image Search" feature additionally allows users to select portions of images on a select number of ballads and search the collection for more examples of that image. These capabilities allow users to find ballads dealing with most topics and gain an understanding of popular attitudes during a given period of British history.
The site would make an excellent resource for students working on a social or cultural history project. Copyright is limited to educational purposes (such as a visual aid for a lecture).